Dissecting the properties of optically thick hydrogen at the peak of cosmic star formation history.
FUMAGALLI M., O'MEARA J.M., PROCHASKA J.X. and WORSECK G.
Abstract (from CDS):
We present the results of a blind survey of Lyman limit systems (LLSs) detected in absorption against 105 quasars at z ∼ 3 using the blue sensitive MagE spectrograph at the Magellan Clay telescope. By searching for Lyman limit absorption in the wavelength range λ ∼ 3000-4000 Å, we measure the number of LLSs per unit redshift ℓ(z) = 1.21±0.28 at z ∼ 2.8. Using a stacking analysis, we further estimate the mean free path of ionizing photons in the z ∼ 3 universe λmfp912 = 100± 29 h70.4–1Mpc. Combined with our LLS survey, we conclude that systems with log N_ H I_ ≥ 17.5/cm2 contribute only ∼40% to the observed mean free path at these redshifts. Furthermore, with the aid of photoionization modeling, we infer that a population of ionized and metal poor systems is likely required to reproduce the metal line strengths observed in a composite spectrum of 20 LLSs with log N_ H I_∼ 17.5-19/cm2 at z ∼ 2.6-3.0. Finally, with a simple toy model, we deduce that gas in the halos of galaxies can alone account for the totality of LLSs at z ≲ 3, but a progressively higher contribution from the intergalactic medium is required beyond z ∼ 3.5. We also show how the weakly evolving number of LLSs per unit redshift at z ≲ 3 can be modeled either by requiring that the spatial extent of the circumgalactic medium is redshift invariant in the last ∼10 Gyr of cosmic evolution or by postulating that LLSs arise in halos that are rare fluctuations in the density field at each redshift.